Ling Yih Shun, Daniel
Ling Yih Shun, Daniel graduated in 2008 and is the Assistant Vice President for Innovation and Change Management in DBS Bank Ltd





What is a “designer in a business suit”?
A phrase I coined myself. Having been working in the financial industry for five years, I am in an environment where I have to speak the language of a business person or banker. So I speak the language of business yet have the mindset of a designer. It is a sort of fusion where I become a “designer in a business suit”. We are in an industry where we are shifting from being specialist designers to more of design thinkers, where designers are able to mix and hang around with other people not used to design. Right now designers have to be more adaptable to working in other fields. It can be working in a restaurant but applying design thinking in the processes.
Is this something you learnt on the job or was it something you knew before?
I think it is more through experience, working in an environment that is really not design-related. If you asked me, if I had worked for an agency for five years I would not have had this kind of revelation. But what I got out of working in the financial industry is that I realised that designers could also excel in non-design environments.
What is your role in DBS and what is a normal day for you like?
I lead innovation and experience design within the customer experience team, which is pretty much the same as what I did in OCBC. A typical day would be packed with meetings—either talking to customers in a typical user testing environment, or running workshops to review design and brainstorm ideas, or challenging the status quo, or presenting in steering committee meetings.
Why the shift from OCBC to DBS?
Having worked in OCBC for five years, I was looking for a fresh challenge and discovering a fresh perspective so that I could be a more well-rounded design thinker in the financial industry. DBS offers a bigger appetite and deeper challenge, and having been working here for about half a year now, I have not regretted that decision.
You also founded Emerge Creatives, a design thinking training company, right?
Yes. Emerge Creatives was a steep learning curve as it was the first time I was selling design to companies. It was really tough. I got rejected all the time and that is where you learn. I strongly encourage people—if they can’t find a job, are interning, or in between jobs—to start an agency on their own. Because when they do it themselves, they do executing, liaising, creating, refining, presenting, and then refining again, etc. Back then I was working with a group of young designers who helped me to execute. I was the one doing sales. So in the end I became like a salesperson, I had to take on the jobs and present. I got rejected many times. Then, you’ve got to really start thinking independently and have confidence in yourself. I learnt a little of that when I was on exchange.
Where did you go?
I went to Eindhoven on exchange. Extremely good experience. You are able to see the world, live independently, you are exposed to other cultures which is very useful, and you work with students of a different mindset. Back then I was inspired by the students and the school system where students were very free in terms of working on projects. It was not as structured but you could still see the design students’ passion in working on projects. It was more collaborative.
You seem to have an entrepreneurial mindset. Being in the financial industry, having two start-ups—Nails Cottage and Emerge Creatives, what is the common thread linking all these?
Entrepreneurship is very linked to innovation and customer experience, and thus you can identify this commonality in my trades. In fact, I will be one of the mentors to aspiring tech start-ups that DBS has been actively collaborating with. Nails Cottage and Emerge Creatives are my babies that I have created not because I had to, but because I liked to. I love the fact that I could create a brand out of nothing, to be in control and provide a good experience for my customers.
How applicable are the skills learnt in DID to your current job?
Very applicable to my core skill sets in design thinking, innovation and experience design. But never stop learning when you are out of school! I learnt entrepreneurship, user experience, training and facilitation, presentation, negotiation and people management skills on the job.
Tell me more about your book, why did you decide to write a book? The motivation behind it.
I wrote and launched a book titled Complete Design Thinking Guide for Successful Professionals almost a year back. I had wanted to write a book for some time already. I wanted to pen down what I had experienced and share it with people around the world. It has really good and easy step-by-step insights on how to solve problems creatively using proven design thinking tools that I have learnt and experienced as a professional. Now the book is sold worldwide. It helps that I am a trainer too, as I can use my book as a training guide for them.
In DID, what was your favourite design exercise?
Oh there was this course by Prof. Teh. He asked us to go around Singapore to take photos of a context or a place and to design products that would be suitable for that environment. It was quite fun. For example, you could go to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, take an image of the space and design something for it. Maybe you want to improve the dustbin there, so you redesign it to suit the environment.
From junior college, how did you decide to study industrial design?
I was doing maths and science in JC so it was an interesting jump. My parents thought, “Eh how come instead of going (to) Engineering you choose something like this?” That time the course was pretty new, there was no confirmation that you could get a job. But back then I was looking at the description of the course and somehow it matched my passion, which is a combination of engineering, design and business.
Which project in DID did you learn a lot from?
Human factors. It kind of impacted me because I realised that actually design is primarily targeted at users and that was the first time we started thinking and looking into human anatomy and emotional design, etc. And that was also, in retrospect, the foundation for me to realise what I wanted to do. Because design for human factors stuck with me on my next job choice. I was doing product design for the elderly—“greater than sixty” design. So back then I was already doing a lot of user-centred design, user testing and interviews with people.
What is your biggest takeaway from your education in DID?
Never say die. I was an average student in school and got only third class honours from NUS DID. However, I refused to give up on what I had learnt and thankfully blossomed in a niche (financial) industry. Thank God for the opportunities that led me to where I am today, and I guess this never-say-die faith I had in myself saved me.